General practices will have dedicated mental health teams and all appointments relating to mental health issues will be free under a pilot programme being proposed by the Labour Party.
If the party forms a government in September, it is promising to invest $43 million in a two-year trial in areas of high demand for mental health services, such as Christchurch.
The policy, announced this morning, is focused on the front-end of mental health care – making sure people are in the system, steered into the right hands, and not put off by consultation costs.
Labour leader Andrew Little said today that many people needing help “don’t know where the front door is”.
The proposed pilot programme would take place in eight places around the country, and would place mental health teams within primary care organisations like GP practices.
“The plan is you go to your GP, and if it is a mental health issue that consultation is free, and the GP will immediately refer you to a mental health co-ordinator in the same practice,” Little said.
“You’ll then get a decision about do you need counselling, do you need something more serious, do you need to see a psychiatrist, is it an addiction issue, do you need to go and get some addiction treatment?”
Each mental health team would have a co-ordinator who would help patients navigate the healthcare system.
Little said the pilot had come from the mental health sector, which had noticed growing demand but was unable to address it. If it proves successful, it will be rolled out nationwide.
A policy paper said there had been a 60 per cent increase in demand for mental health services since 2008. There was a big gap for those with mild to moderate health needs, the paper said.
The party predicted that the pilot would help nearly 40,000 people a year – the equivalent of $537 a person.
Asked whether that was enough funding for mental health care, Little said not all patients required intensive care. The proposed funding would cover an initial consultation and some counselling sessions, he said.
More serious and acute treatment would be covered by the existing mental health system and Ministry of Health budget.